The Carnival

Reading Time: ~5 minutes

The carnival is on the beach. An ugly parking lot has been penned in by chain-link fences. Inside the cage, there is a carousel. There is a merry-go-round. There is one water slide, one fun house, three galleries where you throw things, and one errant clown. The rest of the clowns don’t know they are clowns.

He is in the hall of mirrors, holding her hand. Her hand is clammy. This distresses him, but he is too scared to drop her hand. She will ask why. He will not tell her why. He will say it slipped. Better to just hold it, he thinks. What if she thinks the same thing? What if she’s thinking the same thing? Better to just hold it.

He feels the same way about sleeping with her. He should clutch her or be touching her, but this is uncomfortable. He secretly wants to publish a long dissertation explaining why romantic motions, if uncomfortable, are therefore not romantic. Romance should be comfortable. Anything less than comfortable is something you do on a date, before romance is alive.

There are a lot of us here, she says. She is a few inches from one of the mirrors. Behind her reflection are a thousand other reflections. Standing beside her reflections are his reflections. They are an eternity together. They are together for an eternity. This startles him.

I want to marry you, he thinks. The ring is in my pocket.

She notices his look. Her infinite reflections look up at him. She drops his clammy hand.


I didn’t say anything.

But you were thinking it.

They walk out of the hall of mirrors.

Here, he says. Here.


She is looking across the harbor. Behind them, the carnival is a cluster of spinning colors. Off-key music rises and falls on a breeze. The pale night sky pinches the moon. It leaks silver onto the sea. Watery lights glisten in front of them, boats and buoys bob on rolling waves.


Here, he says. I made this for you.

What is it?

It’s a painting. A painting that I made for you.

The painting is red. It is all red. The reds are all different hues. There’s a deep red sun with a mouth of teeth but no eyes. A lonely person is on a red waterfront watching a crimson sea.

I don’t understand it, she says, handing it back to him.

It isn’t supposed to be understood. It’s supposed to be appreciated.

She looks at it again. You made it for me?

For you.

She takes it from him again, looks at it.

The hand holding it falls to her side.

Let’s get cotton candy, she says.

The carnival’s lights have turned to dust. They sit on the beach, their feet buried in damp sand beneath the violet night, a smeared mural peppered with silver, blurred by clouds. The water sighs quietly, reaching for them, falling short. A few fishermen on the water set off fireworks that whine and crackle, fiery flowers that bloom into oranges and reds, then falling like broken stars over the water.

This is magical, she says. Her hand is cool in his.


I wish this moment would last forever, she says.


If there’s no time, then maybe it is lasting forever, she says. Maybe love is constant and we’re always everywhere.


But what about before we loved each other? Did we exist then?


The sand is cool underneath him. The stars wink above him. Clouds flee from the midnight. Moonlight swims on the waves.

Never mind, she says. Never mind.


The fireworks fizzle into the soft darkness.

Sleepy dawn. The sun opens its eye across the water, blinking mellow amber on their blanket. A gull circles over them and calls out to others, but there’s no response. An early wind stirs the sand.

He awakens when she does. They stare at each other for a long time. He wants to marry her. He has brought the ring. He has waited for the moment, the moment that lasts forever.

Here it is, he thinks. Here it is. He unzips his back pocket, reaches into it, and feels empty air.

Has he brought the ring? He remembers buying a ring. He remembers putting the ring in his pocket. He remembers thinking that the ring was in his pocket. He remembers thinking he was going to buy a ring.

Do you think we confuse memories of ourselves for who we are? She rolls onto her back and looks up into the sky.

She blinks.

Are we ever too old to live for emotions?

He stares blankly, his hand still patting at his pocket, searching. His arm starts to burn, so he retracts it. Maybe there wasn’t a ring. He can’t remember. He rolls onto his back beside her and they both look up at the sky.

A solitary cloud is floating above them. He points at it.

What do you think that looks like?

A mirror, she says. What do you think?

Not a mirror, he says.

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